Flavourful Flavourful

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From left to right: Gulai ikan — Padang style fish curry. The flavourful rendang daging sapi. The soto mie Padang that tasted similar to our local wan tan mee.

WHETHER it’s before the blazing heat of the grill or just pure determination to complete the dish at hand, Chef de Partie Yulie Hermono from Indonesia wears a smile, thus earning the name “Smiling Chef”.

The 44-year-old was brought in from Sheraton Surabaya Hotel & Towers with banquet cook chef Bayu Yuliansyah Warsono, to lead sister company Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur’s kitchen crew in presenting a Taste of Padang.

The buffet promotion is set to enthral food enthusiasts and tantalise palates with the authentic taste and aromas of Padang dishes - the cuisine that hails from Minangkabau in West Sumatra.

“The nickname was given to me by colleagues because I always have a smiling face even when I stand at the grill despite its blazing heat,” Hermono, who has been with the Sheraton group for 19 years, said with obvious pride.

Hermono and Warsono are both from Surabaya and have worked together for seven years. Warsono was taken in under Hermono’s wing at the age of 19.

“It was only then that I learnt how to hold a knife and cut ingredients properly,” Warsono says, admitting that though he loved to cook, he did not have the basic skills.

The 27-year-old honed his culinary skills while assisting Hermono for the past seven years which inevitably contributed to his victories in culinary competitions.

In sharing the reason for his loyalty to Sheraton, Hermono said the hotel gave him a sense of belonging in encouraging him to push the envelope to experiment and create new and swanky dishes besides enveloping him with moral support when it came to culinary competitions.

Perhaps it was this space to grow and improve dishes that the Taste of Padang buffet line offers 20 of the most famous dishes in the cuisine along with 120 other mouth-watering local specialities and international delights that range from quaint appetizers to yummy desserts.

Chef Warsono (left) and Chef de Partie Hermono

Hermono shares that the must-try dishes from this rich, creamy and spicy spread are the rendang daging sapi, gulai tunjang, gulai nangka, ikan masak tempoyak and of course the soto Padang.

And so we savoured the recommended dishes by the chef himself.

The rendang daging sapi is cubed beef that is cooked with spices commonly found in Southeast Asia. Best feasted upon with steaming hot white rice, the meat was incredibly soft, succulent and was flavourful with just the right hint of spice.

The gulai tunjang is also made of beef, but specifically the meat from a cow’s tendon, skin or cartilage. Although I was not too thrilled about the fact that I was eating cow’s feet in the gulai (curry), it was worth the risk as the spicy curry had a tinge of sweetness and sourness to it and the meat was cooked to perfection and it was so tender that it melted in my mouth.

The apprehension that I had in tasting the gulai nangka — a curry made of young pieces of jackfruit — was blown away when I found that it was sweet and easy on the palate. The flesh of the jackfruit had blended with the seasonings of the curry and one would not need to pour the curry onto rice to enjoy it.

The ikan masak tempoyak comprised pieces of fish cooked in a broth consisting of local condiments like turmeric, chilli padi and shallots, among others, together with tempoyak (fermented durian). The gravy was a myriad of flavours with the three S’s dominating — spicy, sweet and sour.

“You can use any other fish, but I prefer swordfish. It simply elevates the taste of the dish, in my opinion,” Hermono offered.

The soto Padang is a clear beef broth, served with various condiments. Every spoonful was a party in one’s mouth. It was impeccably seasoned and the condiments gave the broth extra flavour.

Chef Hermono used tiger prawns for the udang balado ijo — a dry curried dish. Though I initially thought that the flesh of the prawns might not have absorbed all the flavours because the shell was attached to them, I had to discard that assumption as biting into it resulted in me breaking out in sweat. The dish was spicy and tasty, not bland as I expected it to be.

Then there was the soto mie Padang which was a dry noodle dish that was similar to the wan tan mee that we’re used to. It was also served with several condiments that one may or may not choose to add into the dish. It was a very comforting dish to have, possibly because of its familiarity.

If there is still space in your stomach, after the main dishes, try the satay ayam bumbu kacang. The generous chunks of meat that are char-grilled on a skewer are well-marinated and are succulent with every mouthful.

End the meal on a sweet note. Available for your taking is the ronde — a sweet soup dessert, or the getas, a deep-fried pastry peppered with icing sugar. The ronde is colourful glutinous rice balls filled with chopped peanuts that sits soaking in ginger essence while getas on the other hand, was a tad too sweet for my liking and had a chewy texture.

Indulge your tastebuds to this daily buffet at the Essence in the Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur for the rest of the month as it ends on Oct 31. The ‘Taste of Padang’ buffet is priced at RM60++ per person for buffet breakfast, RM82++ per person for buffet lunch and RM98++ per person for buffet dinner. Starwood’s Preferred Guest (SPG) members can enjoy 20% discount off the total food bill. For more details or reservation enquiries, please call (03) 2717 9900 or email [email protected].

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 24, 2014.